I have been in practice long enough to see a lot. Everything from investment scams to complete strangers named in wills to near paupers finding out they had a long-lost uncle who died and left them a fortune. And no, that should not be anyone’s financial plan. Everyone has a story and part of the work of financial planning is to learn about each client’s unique story and help write the next chapters.
Those who do financial planning will tell you it is a ‘people business’. Much of the work I do is intangible and centers around knowing the true desires of my clients. Getting to know the true desires of my clients requires that we talk about their life, their family, and their fears and hopes. The more we engage in this process the more our relationship develops, and a mutual trust is formed. It is a process that, like fine wine, matures through time and has a certain richness that makes this work so rewarding.
Over time, walking with clients through the seasons of life and having a front row seat to see a plan unfold is itself very professionally gratifying. Knowing that the plan led to the confidence to take that big vacation or help the struggling adult child to get on their feet. This is the stuff life is made of. On the flipside, one of the more personally challenging parts of my work is to walk with clients into the later innings of life. When things slow down and their world gets smaller. When the brevity of life becomes a reality and the end is in sight. This is not a topic that most want to talk about – including most clients. But as the saying goes, it beats the alternative and is something that most will eventually be faced with.
In that season, when motor skills are diminished and physical stamina is fading, what does someone do? Life marches on. The power bill needs paid, doctors appointments need coordinated and food needs to be prepared. So, who does these things and so many others when you are no longer able? It is a question that most do not want to grapple with as it requires that you face the reality of becoming a ‘burden’ on someone else. No one I have met aspires to become a burden, so it is hard to address proactively as you face your own mortality and limitations.
And the reality is that what to do in this last season is different for everyone. We all hope to live vibrantly up to the end and then go in our sleep. Some are so fortunate. Others, not so much. Therefore, it is wise to confront this challenge early and put a plan in place that can be followed if you need it. If you end up not needing it, then hopefully you live each day a little freer knowing you have planned wisely and done all you can do.
The work of managing someone else’s life falls broadly into 2 categories: health and financial. The courts will refer to this as person and property. So should you end up needing help to do things that you can no longer do for yourself, it will likely require a team of folks that will all need to be coordinated to be sure that everything that needs to be done, is.
Let’s start with the financial or property side as it is a bit more mechanical and predictable. Many will rely on their children to handle everything and that is sometimes a realistic option. When it is not an option, here are a few of the folks who are generally needed to keep things moving:
- Certified Financial Planner™ Practitioner – Often acts as the financial quarterback and overseer of investments. In my experience in this role, I generally have more information about someone’s finances and financial desires than anyone else – often including the children.
- CPA or Tax Preparer – Once per year whether we like it or not, an income tax return must be filed. Generally, the CPA works with the CFP® Practitioner to get requisite 1099s necessary to complete the return.
- Guardian – This is someone who has complete responsibility for the business (and maybe personal too) affairs of another. This person can be named preemptively through proper planning or sometimes a judge must appoint a guardian on your behalf if you did not plan or those you appointed cannot serve.
- Power of Attorney – You name this person in advance to handle your business affairs in your stead. This could be bank withdraws, insurance claims, IRA distributions and countless other business-related transactions. It should be someone trusted and ideally there should be a back-up or two to the primary named.
- Estate Planning Attorney – It is advisable to have a relationship with an estate planning attorney to periodically review your plans and to be there as things change should you need help.
Although not exhaustive, this list is a good start. Additionally, it is important that there be coordination and communication among this team on matters relevant to your business with them. And while property and ‘stuff’ is important, the most important part of your plan is you. And managing you is not as easy as it may seem – especially if your health becomes challenged! Therefore, here are a few of the roles that you may need to address to be sure you are cared for in the way you prefer.
- Healthcare Surrogate – This is someone you proactively identify and appoint to make healthcare related decisions for you. If you are no longer able to speak for yourself, this person will have the authority to speak for you on matters of your health. Ideally this person would have a healthcare background or at least be compassionate and attuned to your desires.
- Guardian – If you do not have a plan to manage yourself when you no longer can, the court system will appoint someone to do it for you. It is always best to prepare in advance to save the unnecessary cost, delays, and stress associated with going through a court proceeding.
- Care Manager – This is a newer role that seems to be gaining in popularity due to the complexities of healthcare and adult children who are often stretched with career, family, and aging parents. A care manager is someone who generally has a healthcare or social work background and who understands the complex web of services needed to secure the best care plan and environment for those who either do not have or have outlived their support system. They can often provide assessments to gauge what types of support may be needed either now or in the future.
This list also is not complete but covers most of the bases. Each of the roles outlined above is a unique discipline that has its own legal requirements and limitations. In our specialized world, it truly requires a team approach to ensure that you or your loved one is cared for appropriately and not taken advantage of. If you already have a team in place, good for you – you are a unicorn in the planning world. If you are still looking to build a team of trusted professionals, I would suggest you start with finding a qualified Certified Financial Planner™ Practitioner. Building a financial plan is a great place to start to review where you are and identify any gaps that may need to be addressed. Then you can build your team with the help of your Certified Financial Planner Practitioner and implement the plan at the same time. From experience, I encourage you to take this topic seriously and plan accordingly. As Winston Churchill said, “He who fails to plan is planning to fail”.